211 – Ontario’s Helpline for Community and Social Services

The objective of this project is admirable:  to help Ontario residents navigate the complex network of health and human services 24/7, acting as a gateway to community, social, mental healthm and related government services.  Although it’s been available in Peterborough since 2009, it’s probably one of the least-known support systems for Ontario residents.

This helpline and its accompanying website (211ontario.ca) provide information on and referrals to Ontario’s community, social, health-related and government services.

It is governed by a non-profit agency with six full-time staff and a dedicated Board of Directors working in collaboration with regional service providers as well as a network of data contributors delivering services by phone and online to all Ontario residents and community and government agencies acting on behalf of their clients.   The goal is to become a critical resource and strong partner for governments, agencies, first responders and primary care practitioners who work collectively to address some of our most challenging community issues.

It is funded by Ontario’s Ministry of Community and Social Services with support from the federal government, and Green Shield Canada.

In 2017, the primary caller topics involved questions regarding legal, consumer and public safety issues, followed by health care and community support.  More than half a million website sessions researched topics such as food programs, income support and child and family services.

The organization relies on a growing network of partnerships in local communities and counties with a wide range of organizations including the Ontario College of Physicians, reporting lines including addressing issues such as suicide prevention, racism and child welfare, developing a reputation as an effective partner for initiatives that address community well-being.

It’s a daunting task.  211 Ontario’s Executive Director Karen Miligan sums up the objective of the program as follows: “From ending youth homelessness, to addressing the need for mental health and addiction support, to helping people with intellectual disabilities and isolated seniors continue to live independently, collaboration across systems is imperative in order to better serve those who might otherwise fall through the cracks.”   With a lot of the infrastructure now in place, it’s time to increase public awareness of the service.  KG

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